“My people were brought to America in chains,” Martin Luther King Jr. told the American Jewish Congress’ Biennial in 1958. “Your people were driven here to escape the chains fashioned for them in Europe. Our unity is born of our common struggle for centuries, not only to rid ourselves of bondage, but to make oppression of any people by others an impossibility.”
Each year, as Jewish day schools prepare to honor the legacy of Dr. King with special programming and content, I am reminded of how important it is that we prepare our students to live in the world outside the Jewish community. This year, in light of current events both at home (which I wrote about a few weeks ago) and abroad, I am especially reminded.
It is not that diversity is absent in the Jewish schools. One typically finds a range of national origins, ethnicities and social classes within the walls of the school and students have ample opporunity to learn how to get along in a diverse community. However, when it comes to racial diversity, I feel we have a special responsibility in light of the historic relationship between the Jewish community and the civil rights movement (see “Selma” for example. Seriously…go see it). Although we make an effort to expose our students to the larger world around them, the simple fact is that they do spend most of their days in a wholly Jewish environment. However, the Jewish values of kehillah (community) and tikkun olam (repairing the world) extend beyond the Jewish community. Our educational responsibility is prepare our students to be citizens of the city, state, nation, and world in which they live.
You’ll find this reflected in our choice of library books and posters in which we do our best to present a range of cultures. You will see it expressed in the “hidden curriculum” by how we devote school time in both general and Jewish studies to learn about, experience, and commemorate the wonderful holidays of our shared cultures. As we study the life of Dr. King and his continued impact on our society, we are reminded of the words of the prophet Isaiah (42:6-7), “I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have appointed you as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, and from the prison those who sit in darkness.”
May Monday’s holiday be a reminder that we live in a world still in need of healing and an opporunity to do our small part in its repair.